An Open Letter to the People of the Great Lakes Basin:

As an independent binational agency entrusted with assessing progress and providing advice to the U.S. and Canada regarding Great Lakes restoration, the International Joint Commission (IJC) has been advising both governments about the threat to the lakes' ecosystem posed by the Asian carp. We are pleased to report that our warnings were heeded and actions are being taken to keep these hungry invaders out of the Great Lakes, protecting a $4.5 billion sport and commercial fishery.

Asian carp are rapidly proliferating in the Mississippi River Basin, jumping out of the water when startled by boat motors, striking anglers and knocking jet skiers off their vessels. Even worse, these voracious plankton feeders can grow to as much as 100 pounds, robbing native fish of food, and threatening biodiversity in many rivers of our nation's heartland. The Asian carp are relentlessly swimming northward, seeking the cooler waters of Lake Michigan, putting the Great Lakes ecosystem in their slimy sights.

To respond to the threat posed by the Asian carp, a coalition of governors led by Ohio's Bob Taft and Wisconsin's Jim Doyle, federal officials including EPA administrator Mike Leavitt and Army Corps of Engineers chief John Paul Woodley, city leaders like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, members of the Great Lakes Congressional Task Force and three dozen other local, state, and federal agencies are working together for the very first time. At the international level, both the IJC and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission continue to contribute ideas and resources to the fight. Finally, scientists from throughout the basin have provided a solid scientific foundation for critical policy decisions throughout the process.

Now, as a result of this unprecedented cooperative effort, full funding of $9.1 million has been secured to construct the electric fish dispersal barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the last line of defense for the Great Lakes. The state of Illinois deserves a great deal of credit for providing $1.7 million in critical matching funds. Mike Leavitt, as chair of the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force, and key House and Senate leaders showed dogged determination in finding the last $1.8 million needed to supplement the $5 million already promised by the Army Corps. We are also grateful to the other Great Lakes states who agreed to share the burden to protect the lakes by contributing a total of $575,000.

Despite this good news, the IJC remains concerned because another new intruder is identified every eight months. Hundreds of scientists and policy makers who gathered in Toronto earlier this month observed that invasive species were the only indicator of Great Lakes health rated as "poor and deteriorating." This evidence only strengthens our recommendation that the U.S. Congress pass the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (NAISA) to provide a comprehensive approach to prevent invasions, screen out possible invaders and rapidly respond to outbreaks. The recent discovery of a northern snakehead in Chicago's Burnham Harbor emphasizes the urgent need for action because NAISA sets up a "rapid response" system so that all the appropriate agencies and resources can immediately focus on eradicating this predatory invader before it can spread. Similarly, Canada is urged to implement its National Invasive Species Plan and to look for opportunities to harmonize and coordinate programs and policies with the U.S.

In both the U.S. and Canada, comprehensive action on aquatic invasive species is critical if our two nations are to meet our shared objective of restoring and maintaining the biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin. Our commission remains ready to identify approaches that coordinate and harmonize binational efforts to prevent the introduction of introduction of aquatic alien invasive species in the Great Lakes. Moreover, we believe the cooperative work battling the Asian carp provides an excellent model for future collaboration on broader, more complicated and costly restoration issues.

The Rt. Honorable Herb Gray The Honorable Dennis Schornack
Chair, Canadian Section, IJC Chair, U.S. Section, IJC
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